Integrated Care Hub a lightning rod for Kingston’s drug crisis

Integrated Care Hub

With provincial funding secured for two years and $750,000 put forward in community funding, Integrated Care Hub staff are hopeful to bridge the gap with some in the surrounding community who have said they feel unheard.

But work to address the issues at hand will go beyond the scope of the ICH alone, according to those who run it.

After seeing some discussion by members of city council that the Hub needs to hold itself more accountable, Manager of the Integrated Care Hub Ashley O’Brien says they’ve done everything that has been asked and then some.

“We’ve been asked to do things that no other organization in this entire city has ever been asked to do before,” O’Brien said.

She says the Hub actively has safety engagement officers patrolling the grounds and further.

A third-party review of the Hub’s impact however shows a staggering increase in calls for police service in the area, increasing 357% in the Belle Park neighbourhood since 2019 compared to 3% city-wide.

Despite the uptick, the issues complained about by the neighbourhood are not new -or unique- to the city, and many advocating for the ICH feel throughout the last two years they’ve been made an easy target to blame.

In fact, O’Brien says while understanding some very valid concerns from neighbours, many have been adversarial to the Hub since day one.

She says some behaviours she’s seen displayed by people in the community towards Hub members have been more disconcerting than those of Hub patrons.

“I completely see their point, but a lot of it has been lies, a lot of it hasn’t been true whatsoever,” O’Brien said.

“Many of our neighbours have threatened to kill our clients on multiple different occasions.”

O’Brien says there have been an array of threats from various neighbours, and while there have been violent incidents connected to the Hub and its users, there have not been any such with neighbours.

Employees at the Hub say they are empathetic to their neighbours and the concerns they have, acknowledging that many of their clientele are complicated to deal with, and they say they want to find working solutions to the complaints.

“I get it, it’s easy for me to say and really, truly understand the needs of my community,” O’Brien said.

“Would I want it in my backyard? No, the answer is absolutely not, I get it.”

But O’Brien, her peers, and those they serve believe it is worthwhile work and think the outrage all being directed at the ICH is unfair and unreasonable, saying there could be more empathy towards the complex clientele served at the Hub.

Managers and staff think a lot of the concerns residents have brought forward in the third-party report are a result of misconceptions towards addicts.

O’Brien says Hub staff welcome conversations that include neighbours and health and social service agencies, but that those conversations need to include how to stop perpetuating the problems for those with addiction.

Until users have easier access to the services they need, she says, the Hub has its hands full.

“We are not going to be able to fix this issue and we are not responsible for this, we’re trying to do what we can in response to our failed and broken system,” O’Brien said.

“If we are able to increase accessibility to treatment and other healthcare services across the community then people could access services elsewhere.”

Candice Christmas, who authored the Integrated Care Hub Need Report, says that while the third-party review shared to city council shows neighbour concerns to be legitimate, some of the increase in emergency calls could be due to more monitoring and focus since the Hub’s arrival.

She says at this point the Hub is staying in place for at least the next two years and hopes the surrounding community, Hub staff and the community that utilizes its services can engage in conversations that work to find solutions and not just air grievances.

Christmas adds that the problems that exist involve collaboration with other organizations like bylaw and police, but that the community by and large needs to realize it’s a problem that’s not just going to fade away and involves real people who need help, and have started to see help through the ICH.

“They have seen hope and they have seen what’s possible, is it the last step – god no it’s not, it’s a step forward, we certainly don’t want to take a step back but we also recognize too that folks have to live together,” Christmas said.

“When it comes to the neighbourhood it’s not going to move within the next few years so we really need to, I think, better understand each other.”

The problems are not going away if the ICH goes away, advocates say, and diverting any of its services would undermine the model and make accessing services harder for all and near impossible for others.

O’Brien says she wishes more people would look at the Hub as a response to a drug crisis that has been allowed to spin increasingly out of control, and not the reason the crisis is here.

“It’s hard because I just feel like we’ve been completely vilified as if this is like our issue and we’re responsible for everything that happens,” O’Brien said.

“When our entire health and social service system and community… we’ve created this issue for people, and we’re contributing to it and then we’re blaming them because they keep using.”

Even with funding renewed by the province and city, the Hub is limited in helping support users to the extent they’d like to.

Christmas says there is hope for some supplementary federal grants to go along with the existing funding, with the ICH hoping to take steps to further support users in their healing process.

Right now staff say it is a service that is a community need, though they hope to eventually see a day where it isn’t.

“My goal managing the hub is that the hub will close down, that is my goal one day because it’s not needed anymore,” O’Brien said.

“But unfortunately it’s needed more than it ever has been in this community.”